Locals brave the elements to stump for candidates in New Hampshire
Once every four years, dedicated local groups brave freezing temperatures to head north for weekend pilgrimages to New Hampshire on behalf of national politics.
We're in such a year, and local supporters of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been doing just that — canvassing on foot New Hampshire neighborhoods in places like Keene and Lebanon — or phone banking from home.
Both sides think they've backed the right horse.
"[Hillary] is much better prepared to be president," said Mary K. O'Brien, a local Clinton supporter who's been making the trek. "Her experience speaks louder. She would be much better able to negotiate the office and Congress with the strength and subtlety to accomplish important things."
"Hillary is a pro-corporate Democrat and Bernie is not," said Russell Freedman, a Sanders supporter from Lanesborough. "There is a real philosophical and political difference between the two. They would set drastically different priorities as president, and Bernie's got better priorities. He wants to take on the one percent in service to the 99 percent, who've been in decline for decades; to take on the establishment and make it again possible for the middle class to enjoy a decent standard of life."
The focus among local supporters of both candidates right now is New Hampshire. The primary there will be held on Feb. 9.
Afterward, all plan to stop the traveling and concentrate on efforts at home — with door-knocking, phone banking, even debate forums — in the run-up to the Massachusetts primary.
That vote is on Super Tuesday, which will fall on March 1 in 2016. Participating states additionally include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado caucuses, Georgia; Minnesota caucuses, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia
So far, New Hampshire polls show the 74-year-old, self-described "democratic socialist" and Vermont Senator Sanders holding a commanding lead over Clinton.
A CNN poll on Tuesday reported Sanders "trouncing" her in New Hampshire by 27 points, 60 to 33 percent.
But Clinton still leads by 15 points in the latest national polls. Monmouth University's most recent survey found 52 percent of Democrats support her against 37 percent support for Sanders.
On the other hand, Clinton's figures were down seven points from a poll the organization took in December, whereas Sanders' numbers went up 11 points.
Local supporters on both sides agree on one thing: The heat is on.
"Hillary is the most qualified person on the planet to lead our country," said state Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. "She reflects my values for what government should look like."
O'Brien said, "It's hard to judge on the ground. In 2008, they thought Obama was leading big in New Hampshire, but Hillary ended up taking it. Out there, you get this enthusiasm for your side and it gives you a boost."
Pittsfield Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol, a Sanders supporter, said, "The energy is contagious right now. What many people — particularly young people — are looking for is someone who is going to drastically change the system. A slightly left-of-center candidate like Hillary is not going to propose to do that."
Krol particularly liked Sanders' calls for a national healthcare plan and pro-working class economic agenda.
All were ready for the fight to come home.
"Berkshire County voters are very savvy, and they've been playing close attention and looking into these candidates," Farley-Bouvier said, noting solid groups of local supporters on each side. "It's all about retail politics now. We're going to be working to get our people to the polls."
"Bernie can say off the cuff that he's going to hold a rally in Springfield and three days later 6,000 people show up," Freedman said. "He's also got record numbers of small donors. Hillary can't say these things. And yet we're told Bernie 'doesn't have a chance,' or is a 'longshot.' I don't buy it. I think Sanders has more support in Massachusetts and locally."
In addition to Farley-Bouvier, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, has announced his support for Clinton.
State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, meanwhile, is an outspoken Sanders supporter. Pittsfield city councilors Nicholas Caccamo and Peter White are also supporting Sanders.
After months of promising to focus on their own agendas, the candidates have recently begun to focus on their differences, trading barbs and criticizing one another's historical and current positions with more conviction.